Literary Daybook, Jan. 18

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 18, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Jan. 18, Mrs. Arnold insists on a full-time nurse for her husband.
-- "Toxin" (1998)
by Robin Cook

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1936 Rudyard Kipling died, at the age of 71. Although one of Englands most popular writers at the turn of the century, and a Nobel winner in 1907, by the time of his death Kipling was not merely forgotten but scorned and cartooned. To the intellectuals and political left he was a dinosaur of empire, a jingoist of pith-helmet patriotism and white-mans-burden racism. To the modernist writers and the literati, he was a mere tale-teller, a balladeer, a journalist. Few critics questioned "Kim" and "The Jungle Book" as childrens classics, but many saw Kipling as a child himself, incapable of moving beyond themes of chin-up resolve, or poems that rhymed:

"Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: -- "Oh, how beautiful!" and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives."

Also, Kiplings anti-Semitism could reach astonishing proportions, as in the view that Einsteins relativity theory was part of a larger Jewish conspiracy to destabilize. Unsurprisingly, the literary world that had flocked to Thomas Hardys internment in Westminster Abbey eight years earlier stayed away in droves when Kipling was placed beside him. Still, writers as diverse as Eliot and Orwell and Jorge Luis Borges have expressed admiration, as have more recent critics and biographers. Some of the poetry might give pause today -- "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,/And the women come out to cut up what remains ..." -- and children reading "The Jungle Book" might wonder at how much "The Lion King" borrowed from it.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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